Employees can routinely see their personnel files at most companies, but what about material gathered in the application process?

QWhat rights does a job applicant have in finding out what results turn up in an "investigative background check" done by a potential employer? I recently had one less-than-pleasant experience. I interviewed for one of the large defense industry companies. They seemed to be very interested in hiring me, but then they lost some contract work and I did not get hired. They decided to split the work I would have done between two employees who were on contracts that were ending.

According to a human resources person, they conducted an investigative background check on me and the results were perfectly fine. However, when I requested a copy of it, I got various answers. Among them were that the computer was down and they couldn't e-mail it to me. Am I entitled to see what it says?

ADiane A. Seltzer, a Washington lawyer who has represented both workers and corporations in employment disputes, said this job applicant most definitely has a right to see what that investigation turned up because it involved a potential government-related hiring.

"A government or contractor employee has a right to request any documents related to his or her employment application," Seltzer said. "That file would still be maintained. There could be information in there that relates to why they weren't hired."

She said there's "nothing wrong with asking the company" again to provide a copy of its investigation. But Seltzer said that if the company still refuses, then the job applicant should file a Freedom of Information request with the government agency that the company was going to do the work for, something that can easily be done online.

Seltzer said the worker should "ask for any and all documents related to the employment application, including any information on references, credit reports and criminal background checks."

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.